Orchids Shouldn't Be Throw-Away Plants—Here's How to Keep Them Alive

Follow these expert tips to get your orchids blooming again

A Phalaenopsis orchid in a white pot on a table.

 Natalie Board/Getty Images

I once swore that I wouldn't bother with trying to keep an orchid alive. Don't get me wrong; I love to receive one as a gift because the plants have a lovely, long bloom cycle. However, I have never managed to get one to rebloom again—until this year. 

As with all my indoor plants, I spent time and effort studying and getting to know what orchids specifically need. I am here to share that knowledge with help from Christopher Satch, aka the Plant Doctor, and Alfred Palomares, Vice President of Merchandising and Resident Plant Dad at 1-800-Flowers.com, to show you how to keep an orchid alive indoors and get them to bloom again.

1. Selecting a Great Flowering Orchid

There are over 25,000 different species of orchid. However, the most common types that you see at the grocery store are Phalaenopsis orchids. Orchids in this genus are popular because they bloom for a long time and are relatively low-maintenance.

"The key to prevention of issues later down the line is picking a plant that's good, to begin with," explains Satch, "Don't pick a rescue plant unless you are familiar with rehabilitating plants."

Select an orchid with the most unopened buds. "Those flowers will last the longest because they haven't bloomed yet," says Satch, "You don't know how long the open flowers in the store have been open for, and don't want to cheat yourself out of a bloom."

Be sure to inspect the leaves and stems for insects and fungal infections. Satch says they will often look like brown or black splotches, usually with yellow around them.

Phalaenopsis orchid with green blooms in a white pot.
Debbie Wolfe

2. How to Keep Orchids Blooming

Once you have a good specimen, providing them with the proper care will increase their chances of survival and reblooming. Adequate lighting is vital for the survival of an orchid.

"Phalaenopsis orchids can survive in a low-light space," says Palomares. However, the more bright, indirect light it receives, the longer the blooms will last and the greater the chances for rebloom. "Be sure to put it into a window that gets a tickle of direct sun," suggests Satch, "Up to three hours of direct sunbeams or a full day of dappled sunbeams is ideal."

Orchids like their temperature, watering schedule, and light to be stable. "Too much of a deviation in any direction leads to bud blast – spontaneous death of the flower buds," explains Satch.

Orchids also like their media to stay moist, not soggy. "Orchids are also considered air plants, or epiphytes, and do not grow in soil," says Palomares, "They are typically potted with moss or even rocks."

To keep the medium moist, top dress with sphagnum and spritz often when it dries out, especially during blooming. It's ok to allow the medium to dry out somewhat between waterings but it should be watered before it's fully dry. There is no need to fertilize orchids while they are blooming. 

"Under proper care, blooms will last for two months or more before fading," says Palomares. My Phalaenopsis produced blooms on new spikes that forked off the main spike for nearly six months!

A Phalaenopsis orchid re-blooming in a terra cotta pot.
Debbie Wolfe

3. Orchid Care After Flowering

The after bloom care sets you up for future success or failure. Once the blooms have expired, you can cut them back or let the flower spikes fall off naturally. If you do cut it, Palomares suggests cutting the spike about an inch above the planting line. "At this point, the orchid is going into its resting stage to store up energy before it re-blooms," explains Palomares. 

You may repot your orchid during this phase. "Replant the orchid into half sphagnum, half orchid bark chip mix in a clear plastic pot with drainage," says Satch. "Believe it or not, the roots photosynthesize, and some exposure to light helps the plant a lot."

However, if you do not like using a clear container, slip it into a larger pot to cover it. During the resting stage, the plant will put energy into new foliage and roots. You can now fertilize with a liquid orchid fertilizer; applying according to the product's instructions, about once a month.

Phalaenopsis orchid roots seen in a clear pot.
Debbie Wolfe

"If you follow these simple rules, you can get your Phalaenopsis orchid to bloom about twice a year and hold the blooms for a few months," says Satch. Once you've successfully gotten a Phalaenopsis to rebloom, Satch says to give other orchid varieties a try, such as Oncidium hybrids, jewel orchids, and lady slipper orchids.